The Cast and Crew of ‘Everest’ Explain the Towering Challenges They Faced

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Mount Everest is the world’s highest peak and many have perished attempting to reach its summit. One particular such event happened in 1996, claiming the lives of eight climbers, including Rob Hall and Scott Fischer. Their harrowing tale was captured in the book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, who was a part of the fatal expedition. That book has now been adapted into Everest, the towering, powerful, and suspenseful film from director Baltasar Kormákur. Fittingly, Everest is opening this weekend on IMAX screens across the country – after all, what better way to convey the immense sense of scale than on the largest screen imaginable? I recently got to peer into the thoughts of the Kormákur and his stars at a recent press conference in Beverly Hills.

“I think the story is very real, and it’s hard to come by, those very stories. It also has a huge scope,” Kormákur said of what drew him to the project. “It’s not about a storm hitting people on a mountain. There’s a lot of things happen before that. And I also think it’s about getting down a mountain, not getting up a mountain.”

“For me,” said Michael Kelly, who plays Krakauer in the film, “it was, by the time I jumped on board, all these people were attached and so, for me, I was like oh wow, all these actors who I look up to and very much respect.” The actor who recently broke out with his role on House of Cards added, “That with the story itself, it’s an incredibly compelling story and to try and tell that story and be a part of that was a huge honor for me.”

“I knew the story. I knew the book. I had a massive reaction to the book,” Josh Brolin, who plays the brash Texan Beck Weathers, said of what drew him to Everest. “And then I also, before I met Balt, I had a director come over to my office and sell a film that said, ‘We’re gonna do a film and it’s not going to be any of that Hollywood bullshit. It’s gonna be real.’ And I thought, ‘Who is this kook?’ Then Baltasar came into the meeting after that and I thought, ‘Oh, I need to work with this guy.’ There was none of that. It was real. It was him. He was 100% organic. And the fact that I thought he was perfect to direct a story as powerful as this, and as sensitive as this. I needed to work with him and it turned out well.”

“I was always haunted by the fact that Rob, this man, was on the top of the world and couldn’t get home to his pregnant wife,” Jason Clarke, the Aussie actor playing Rob Hall, said of what gravitated him towards the film. “And that really haunted me. He’s sitting up there, his wife is pregnant, and he couldn’t get home. And then the more you dug into it, the richer and more complicated – it was like a detective story of what happened. John Krakauer wrote an extraordinary book of it and you kept following this trail – it was just a massive journey of people dying and wanting to live in extraordinary inhospitable places.”

Emily Watson, the two-time Oscar nominee who plays Helen Wilton, had a much different connection to the story than many of her co-stars. “I had a very strange, bizarre connection to the story. I wasn’t connected to the story myself, but this happened on the day that my very first film premiered at Cannes. I was having the most bizarre and intense moment of my life,” the actress recalls. “I just remember reading in the paper this story – hearing that this guy was on the mountain, and he was dying, and he called his wife. Hearing this story unfold and just being transported away from my own sense of importance for a few minutes to this unbelievable event.”

“I loved the book,” a bearded Jake Gyllenhaal explains. “And I was aware of the situation when it happened in reality, but I think, to me, what was so moving was the idea of the inevitable in a movie which felt like reality to me in a massive entertaining movie where Mother Nature wins. In the end, the inevitable happens. These characters ultimately, particularly Rob and Scott, were not necessarily afraid of – they ventured into the idea of life and death, and walked the precipice of that all the time. And I liked that idea. I liked a movie that was dealing with something that felt very honest.”

Last in line at the press conference, John Hawkes jokingly asks, “I’m sorry. What was the question?” The veteran character actor who plays Doug Hansen then explained the reasons he joined Everest, “For me it was just Balt. I just had a feeling that this would be the guy to make this movie, and somebody I would enjoy getting to know and work with. It all turned out to be true.”

On the topic of the film’s verisimilitude, none of the actors or the director have any pretensions about what they’re doing. “I find it hard to compare acting to anything in the real world,” Gyllenhaal said. ”In the sense that what we do and what we’re trying to do is mimic what these guys did and continue to do, which is legitimately risk their lives. We had maybe 25%, at times when it was the harshest for us, what they experience in reality. But I think there is nothing more fun than putting yourself, at least for me, in a situation that feel as real as possible. Because I think it’s fun for to think of an audience watching that and feeling those feelings as well. I believe in the unconscious experience of a movie even as powerful as the conscious experience of it. That’s all in there.”

Josh Brolin also tries to convey a sense of humility, “I think that we’re trying to be as respectful as we possibly can given what we do. We fake it. We simulate it. We’re not mountaineers. We joke around and try to make moments that you can write about and all that stuff. But it’s much deeper than that for us and why we chose to do the film.”

For Kormákur, he wanted to convey a sense of experience. “One of the thing we also wanted to do was give 99.9999% of the human race, hopefully, to be able to see and feel Everest because most of them couldn’t or shouldn’t go,” the director said. “We wanted to create a visceral feeling. Part of the need for me to tell the story is to experience the story. I can’t experience what it is to be on top of Everest, hopeless.”

“I wasn’t a part of it until 2011,” Kormákur says of the decade-long attempt to get this story on the screen. “The financing fell apart twice in the middle of prep.” Along the way, Kormákur turned down some mammoth projects. “I was offered to do Fast & Furious 7 and I chose to do Everest. That’s the kind of exaggerations that you could go.”

But when one journalist brings up The Goonies to Josh Brolin, the personable actor takes a turn for the gruff, his smile fading with a mention of the 30-year-old kid’s film. With a wide grin, Jake Gyllenhaal begins to needle his co-star, “Why didn’t you wear the red headband in this movie?”

“That was a fucking good choice when you think about,” Brolin retorts as the room at the Four Seasons fills with laughter. “31 years later, unfortunately.”

Before Brolin can answer the sincere question about giving up thrill seeking fun for familial responsibility, Gyllenhaal interrupts, “Like One-Eyed Jack or Chunk?”

“Jake literally just regressed 30 years,” Brolin retorts back to his grinning co-star. “He’s sucking his thumb and watching Goonies for the first time in his mind right now.”

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